Guest Post by DannyBoy Naha-Ve'evalu
The following is a review of the new animated feature Moana, originally written and posted to Facebook last month after an early screening of the film for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities.
When news surfaced about Disney's new Polynesian "princess," Moana, I quickly raised an eyebrow and scratched the back of my head. I worried about how Disney would portray our Polynesian people and commodify our cultures. As most know, Disney has a long history of misrepresenting and misconstruing different cultures, ethnic background, and stories like Pocahontas (1995) and Mulan (1998) while profiting simultaneously. While many of us from the Pacific Islander community raised our eyebrows, scratched the back of our heads, and wrote critical think pieces about Moana (2016), our community also awaited Moana's arrival gleefully.
I learned of Disney's process to create Moana and from a cultural standpoint, they followed protocol. The producers developed an Oceanic Trust to advise them on accuracy, they conducted research on many Pacific Islands learning from elders, the people, master navigators, master tattoo artists, and they hired an all Polynesian cast to be the voices of the characters. Even though this seemed culturally appropriate, I wasn't havin' it! I still had an issue with the fact that the creators of the film were palagi (Caucasian). Despite critical analysis, our community was thrilled. As more and more of our community's excitement grew around Moana, more and more of our community's critical thought and protest quickly followed.
For me, I was aboard the critical canoe crashing ashore people's timelines giving critical thought after thought about Moana. It was extremely empowering to see our community rally together in consciousness, address Disney, and hold them accountable. The critical analysis from so many Pacific Islanders in academia grew so large that it shut down a costume of Maui's skin suit that Disney released. I was appalled to see this item for sale because it's similar to the detriment of Blackface. However, I was extremely surprised that Disney heeded our community's charge and pulled Maui's skin suit from their catalog.